Baxter Building Ep. 45: “This Must Be What It’s Like To be A Mutant!”

August 13, 2018

Previously on Baxter Building: When we last left off — in the same recording session! — the Thing has discovered an all-new reason to feel self-pity, Sue Richards has turned so almost-evil that it’s amazing that no-one seems to have brought in some psychics to check her out, and Johnny Storm has accidentally burned down an entire university. Reed Richards? Still boring, but I think we’d all expect that, let’s be honest. Spoilers: This won’t be the case by the end of the episode.

0:00:00-0:19:52: We go straight into Fantastic Four #376, which opens by stealing from the “seminal classic” Uncanny X-Men storyline “Days of Future Past,” and ends by stealing the it-depends-how-old-you-are potential classic backstory of Cable, because… Tom DeFalco was really into the X-Men at the time…? I have no idea. Also! Jeff comes up with the portmanteau “Nathable,” and I try and defend Franklin Richards for reasons that are genuinely inexplicable to me at time of writing, by calling him “a dick in training.” But class is almost over…!

0:19:53-0:41:31: Is Reed Richards a bad scientist, or Tom DeFalco a bad writer? Fantastic Four #377 will have you ask that question, as well as others like this: Is Huntara a rip-off of Angela? Was Devos supposed to be an alternate Franklin Richards, or perhaps just the enemy of Franklin in the future he was raised in? Did Devos’ original design owe a little bit too much to the action movies that were coming out at the time? And most importantly of all, is Paul Ryan actually on a mission to make this comic book as boring as possible?

0:41:32-0:54:00: There are all manner of things that are unexpected about FF #378, not least of which is seeing the Thing complain that people don’t think of the group as “the world’s greatest fighting team” anymore. Apparently, that was a thing at some point…? But who can dwell on such matters when Johnny’s trial is interrupted by four of the lamest villains of all, and there’s an entire army of cameos including Spider-Man! Daredevil! The Avengers! Sandman but not the Neil Gaiman one but wouldn’t that be amazing! And, fine, sure, Silver Sable. Whatever.

0:54:01-1:01:30: Things aren’t going well for Sharon in Fantastic Four #379, which might come as a relief for Sue and Reed Richards, who are both currently sharing a plot line unintentionally. (This won’t last long, don’t worry.) Meanwhile, Doctor Doom is plotting in the background, and that’s not going to end well. (Note that we’re picking up the pace, as Jeff and I both begin to get appropriately exhausted.)

1:01:31-1:07:03: Speeding towards the end of the episode, we rush through FF #380, in which Doctor Doom and the Thing share a meal and a brief connection — one that Doom’s henchmen don’t notice, strangely — and a random alien force turns into an invincible zombie because, sure, why not. Everything else makes perfect sense by now, after all.

1:07:04-1:14:47: There’s a lot to dislike about Fantastic Four #381 — the generic-looking villain who raises the specter of Don Perlin’s Defenders designs, although he also prompts Jeff’s characterization of him as “Knockoff Darkoth”; the unsubtle-as-hell “Maybe Malice is evil” moment; DeFalco and Ryan’s seeming inability to stage an exciting action scene — but it really might all be redeemed by the last page reveal, which is genuinely kind of wonderful in both humor and shockingness. It also fixes that whole problem about Reed Richards being kind of dull by comparison. Are we… are we ending on a high note…?


1:14:48-1:24:46: I go back to a conversation that appeared as the cold open to Episode 44, and ask Jeff, is there really something to like about these comics? His answer may surprise you (if you’ve not really been paying attention to what he’s been saying earlier in these last two episodes).

1:24:47-end: Finally, we wrap things up by looking ahead to next episode — where we’ll take on #382-388 — and mention, as always, our Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts, not to mention the the Patreon page that makes this whole thing possible. As Alex Chilton once so poignantly sang, thank you, friends.


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4 comments on “Baxter Building Ep. 45: “This Must Be What It’s Like To be A Mutant!”

  1. David M Aug 14, 2018

    Gina Going’s colouring doesn’t help, it fits too well with the a-bit-dull vibe.
    Writing as an actual grandpa…everything you said is accurate. May the gods have mercy on my children should I ever get a time machine!
    One of the things I like about the end of this run is the reappearance of the most under-used aspect of Dr Doom’s character- Grifter Von Doom! I love those few panels in his origin where he’s fleecing the rich and powerful. I’d love it if he’d really gone out pulling off one last con.
    When you did 11 issues this time I got a bit ahead of myself. I did some sums and literally found myself thinking Baxter Building might all be over by Christmas. Ah well, if Empress Audrey permits we’ll all still be here whenever it is Jeff switches off the lights and locks the doors,

  2. Voord 99 Aug 18, 2018

    “Grandpaesque Image-ification.” That nails it. Not saying that you should have edited the episodes down to just that phrase and put that out as your episode, but you could.

    But there is one thing about these issues that struck me as having possibilities: the idea that Johnny should be the most disturbing member of the FF to the public.

    It’s not the role in which he was originally cast, obviously — he was the popular teen idol from the age of Ricky Nelson.* But it’s what *should* follow from the traditional depiction. He’s got powers that would in the real world be absolutely terrifying to be around even if you didn’t live in the most densely populated urban environment in North America.

    (Seriously, think of all those panels in which the Torch is standing around, flamed on, with other people in the group. In the real world, people would be uncomfortable pretty much as a matter of instinct being that close to a large open fire. That’s human beings — what if someone were out walking their dog?)

    This was the whole point of those powers back in the ‘40s when the original Human Torch was created – they provoked fear and horror in people when they were first exposed to them, in a Frankenstein riff. And then you give Johnny the Nova Flame stuff, turning him into a living weapon of mass destruction.

    The other side of this is Johnny’s personality. He’s always been depicted as hot-headed, impulsive, and prone to losing control. That personality combined with these particular powers should be utterly terrifying to ordinary people.

    None of this was exploited properly by Lee/Kirby. (You had the “Public turn against the FF!” stories, of course, esp. #2, which draw on some of this, but those are about the whole FF, not singling out Johnny.)

    Johnny’s first appearance in #1 shows the degree to which this isn’t part of Kirby’s vision of the character, I think: Johnny is in a car, next to a friend. He flames on, actually melting the metal of the car and the other person who is sitting next to him in the passenger’s seat is completely unharmed. Kirby’s Johnny inhabits a world in which his power is magically unthreatening in a way in which it really shouldn’t be.

    Basically, I think this is an accidental consequence of the fact that the Lee/Kirby Johnny is there to be the kid of the group and to inject a bit of late ‘50s/early ‘60s teen culture into the comic, but combined that with being a revival of a Golden Age character whose conception was very different and more coherent. The significance of Johnny’s powers is purely symbolic: they match his passionate and emotional teenaged character depiction. You’re not meant to take them literally.

    (Contrast Ben, who is presented more literally as being in the world the giant super-strong orange monster that he’s supposed to be. Ben, of course, is the one member of the Fantastic Four who’s grounded in a social reality.)

    So I’ll give DeFalco and Ryan this: they were picking up on a tension in the concept of Johnny Storm as a character that’s been there to be exploited since 1961, but hasn’t been. It is, however, I think telling that what they really want to do with this is use it to (a) have Matt Murdock guest star in the book, retro-style and (b) tell an X-Menified version of the old “FF lose their money” motif.*

    (Look, if you can’t top the Fantastic Four having to make a movie that turns out to be being produced by Namor the Sub-Mariner, don’t do this story. And you can’t top that.)

    *Similarly, I don’t entirely agree with our hosts that having Sue go “Reed, haven’t you noticed my outfit?” lacks precedent in the character. It’s exactly the sort of thing that the Silver Age Sue said. It’s just that the new outfit wouldn’t have been that hellishly awful thing. DeFalco and Ryan manage to find a way to update a horribly sexist trope of the 1960s by combining it with a completely different horribly sexist trope of the 1990s!

    • Voord 99 Aug 19, 2018

      Vitally important correction. I checked my memory of the Torch’s first appearance in FF#1, and it was faulty. The other person was outside the car, not in the passenger’s seat.

      I don’t think it really damages the point very much — Johnny is hot enough in that scene to cause molten metal to flow in streams, apparently in a matter of seconds, and the other person in the scene should definitely be more than surprised.